November 19, 2017

Sexual Misconduct Is Never a Laughing Matter, But Why Is it Always a Joke?

This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.

No, not you, Al Franken! And not you too, George Takei!

Our reactions to men, whether gay or straight, outed as sexual predators or harassers or molesters, as in the case of Roy Moore, has more or less been that of uniform horror, disgust and head-shaking “I knew it!”

Harvey Weinstein? Oh, we think, he’s fat and unattractive and crass, though rich and powerful. No wonder. Bill O’Reilly? Oh, he’s with Fox News, that sexist, misogynistic network that functions as an apologist for the Republican agenda. No wonder. Kevin Spacey? Oh, he was always dodgy, everyone knew he was gay but he wouldn’t admit it, and yeah, for sure he hit on young boys. No wonder. Roy Moore? Oh, please. Another bible-thumping bigot from the South who got removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. Turns out to be a child molester who preyed on girls as young as 14 and even got banned from a shopping mall for lurking around, a married man in his 30s and a lawyer hanging around and making creepy sexual advances towards really young girls. No wonder. Louis C.K.? Oh, he’s always been a d*ck, just listen to his comedy routine, he actually jokes about showing his penis to women. No wonder.

And so on.

But then come allegations against George Takei, the actor who played Hikaru Sulu in his younger years, and today at 80 has become something of a social media superstar, advocating for gay rights, speaking out against discrimination towards Asian-Americans, and generally just an all-around beloved figure.

Last week a former male model accused Takei of groping him in 1981. Scott Brunton was a 23-year-old aspiring actor and model who waited tables in Hollywood at the time, and Takei would run into him every now and then. Brunton claimed that Takei invited him over to his apartment one time and plied him with drinks that made him eventually pass out.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Brunton said, “The next thing I remember, I was coming to and he had my pants down around my ankles and he was groping my crotch and trying to get my underwear off and feeling me up at the same time, trying to get his hands down my underwear. I came to and said, ‘What are you doing?!’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ He goes, ‘You need to relax. I am just trying to make you comfortable. Get comfortable.’ And I said, ‘No. I don’t want to do this.’ And I pushed him off and he said, ‘O.K., fine.’ And I said I am going to go and he said, ‘If you feel you must. You’re in no condition to drive.’ I said, ‘I don’t care, I want to go.’ So I managed to get my pants up and compose myself and I was just shocked. I walked out and went to my car until I felt well enough to drive home, and that was that.”

Takei has expressed shock and bewilderment at the accusations of sexual assault, by a man he said he could not remember. “Right now it is a he said / he said situation over alleged events over 40 years ago,” he explained via Twitter. “But those that know me understand that non-consensual acts are so antithetical to my values and my practices, the very idea that someone would accuse me of this is quite personally painful.”

Brunton, however, stands by his story, maintaining that Takei’s hypocritical response to the accusations against Kevin Spacey infuriated him that he felt he had to speak out. Ironically, Takei’s statement clearly explains the uneven power balance that favors the more powerful party when it comes to sexual assault. “When power is used in a non-consensual situation, it is wrong. For Anthony Rapp, he has had to live with the memory of this experience of decades ago. For Kevin Spacey, who claims not to remember the incident, he was the older, dominant one who had his way. Men who improperly harass or assault do not do so because they are gay or straight—that is a deflection. They do so because they have the power, and they choose to abuse it.”

And yet, complicating things further, on Howard Stern’s radio show last October, Takei was asked on-air if he had ever grabbed any man’s genitals “against their will.” It was further suggested by Stern and his co-host Robin Quivers that he may have “persuaded” these men to letting him touch them, and was it possible that these incidents would happen at work?

His reply, whether jokingly said (as he claims now) or not, seemed to indicate that he had, echoing the modus operandi that Brunton described. “It was either in my home. They came to my home.”

It’s rather disheartening to think that George Takei would be as predatory as the other men he has denounced. But the accusation against former comedian turned impressive senator Al Franken, a Democrat, in which a woman claimed, with photographic evidence beamed to the world, that he had inappropriately groped and kissed her while she was sleeping, was downright demoralizing. It also smacked off a political hit job.

Franken has apologized to the woman, Leeann Tweeden, and has willingly submitted himself to a congressional ethics investigation. Unless other women come forward—and no one has—it would appear that Franken’s actions, while appalling, were clearly stupid and juvenile, and a one-off event, not a pattern of behavior. However, they were not committed during the time he has been a senator, but when he was still a comedian. The photograph was taken while Franken was on a 2006 comedy tour to entertain US troops in the Middle East.

What Franken did appears to be more of a silly, albeit demeaning, prank and makes one wonder, in terms of sexual misconduct, when is an action a mistake, and when does it become abuse?

But as they say, “context is everything,” and as more photos emerge from the comedy tour Tweeden and Franken were on, it does seem like a deliberate attempt to ruin Franken politically. There are photos of Tweeden engaging in behavior that, if done by a man to a woman (or for that matter by a man to another man) would be considered harassment. It includes her grabbing a guitarist’s ass while performing a musical number, with a lascivious look on her face.

How often have we been told, when incidents such as these are suddenly revealed to the public, “it was just a joke.”

Clearly, some jokes aren’t funny at all.

B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant. 

For comments and questions, e-mail b.wiser.ph@gmail.com. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.

 

Photo courtesy of Vox

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B. Wiser, culture, George Takei, Kevin Spacey, rape culture, Rape Jokes, Roy Moore, Sex & Sensibility, sexual harassment



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